From John Ray's shorter notes
July 29, 2011
"Psycho-analysing" terrorist Breivik
There are by now innumerable psychological assessments of Breivik online. Practically every publication you log on to has one. And they are all rather laughable when one looks at the things upon which the various diagnoses are based:
Breivik played violent computer games. So do a billion other men. Breivik did not relate well to women. That's also true of millions of American men -- particularly if you ask American women. Breivik lived with his mother well into adulthood. That too is common these days. It's almost the norm in Italy and Japan. He liked dressing up and giving himself titles. So do the freemasons. And so it goes: Things that do not cause terrorism in millions of others suddenly caused terrorism in Breivik? What a heap of nonsense!
My Ph.D. is in psychology, my academic specialty is political psychology and I have had over 100 papers in that field published in the academic journals -- including papers on what would seem to be relevant phenomena, such as neo-Nazism and psychopathy. So can I do better? Perhaps. To make any diagnosis when you have never even met the person is a very bad start but I will try.
So, for starters, is Breivik mad? Is he insane? There is general agreement that he is not and I agree with that. He shows no signs of delusions and has normal reality contact. He is not psychotic.
The one glaringly salient fact about Breivik is that he is a one-off. People with broadly conservative views are almost never terrorists. Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh is the nearest comparable case and there are considerable differences beteeen him and Breivik. Breivik is much more intellectual, for a start.
And that one salient fact is in my view the key to Breivik. Terrorism is not the product of personality. It is ideologically motivated. Personality plays some part but ideology is the overwhelming influence behind terrorist deeds. Nearly two years ago, U.S. army Major Nidal Hasan stood up at Ft. Hood shouting "Allahu Akbar" - Arabic for "God is great" -- before opening fire methodically from two handguns, killing 13 and wounding 32. Very similar behaviour to Breivik and with the motive being clearly ideological, in his case the ideology of fundamentalist Islam.
And there is no denying where Breivik got most of his ideas. He got them from fairly mainstream conservative sources. What he says in his manifesto about the Left and about Islam could be duplicated from many mainstream conservative sources. Indeed, he quotes such sources at length in his manifesto.
So how come hundreds of millions of conservatives have ideas similar to Breivik but only Breivik used them as a basis for a terrorist attack?
To answer that we have to move from ideology to sociology. I taught sociology for some years in a major Australian university so perhaps I have a few ideas in that department too.
And what seems to be the key sociological context is Norwegian society itself. Norwegians are very self-righteous and politically correct and one result of that is that Norway's penal code (Straffeloven, section 135 a) prohibits "hate speech" and defines it as publicly making statements that threaten or ridicule someone or that incite hatred, persecution or contempt for someone due to their skin colour, ethnic origin, homosexual life style or orientation or, religion or philosophy of life. So criticism of Muslims is illegal in Norway.
And yet, of all Western countries, Muslim aggression against the host country would seem to be at its peak in Norway and Sweden, two of the world's most permissive countries. Permissiveness is NOT the key to restraint and as the old proverb has it: "Give them an inch and they will take a mile". Because Norway and Sweden not only put up with Muslim lawlessness but actually protect it from view, the misbehaviour has escalated in those countries to quite appalling levels. Rapes in those countries in recent years have almost entirely been the doing of Muslims, for instance.
And the average Norwegian is not oblivious to that, for all the clampdown on mentioning it by Norway's Leftist government. Norwegian experts say that Breivik's attitude to Muslims is in fact common among ordinary Norwegians. Leftist reality denial doesn't work for long.
So the pressure towards retaliation against Muslims is in proportion to the Muslim outrages committed. Muslim behavior is at a peak of unacceptability in Norway and that generates a peak head of steam for retaliation against Muslims. Muslims are not as indulgently treated in other countries (even Britain locks some Muslim haters up) so their behaviour is better and that in turn means that resentment against them does not build up so much.
So Breivik was simply the point at which the Norwegian dam burst. When any dam bursts it is always possible in retrospect to say where the weak point was but that is rarely apparent in advance. The point at which the dam bursts can be essentially random.
So we come back to the question: Why was Breivik the weak point? I think it was essentially random. Other Norwegians would have eventually done something similar if Breivik had not.
One thing that I do notice, however, is that a lot of his mental characteristics seem rather adolescent. So we have adolescent mental characteristics combined with a very capable adult brain. And adolescents make great warriors, warriors who are largely heedless of their own wellbeing in fighting for what they are told is the common good. The undoubted heroism of the Hitler Youth in the closing stages of WWII is an obvious example of that and armies generally do recruit heavily from teenagers.
And it is clear that Breivik saw himself as self-sacrificing in what he did. He acted for what he saw as the general wellbeing by attacking the protectors of Muslims at their weakest point: Their children.
And I see no reason to doubt the account Breivik gives of his motivation: It was self-sacrifice for the common good, a very Norwegian motivation. He wanted Norwegians freed from the very real oppressive burden of their Muslim minority.
Go to John Ray's Main academic menu
Go to Menu of longer writings
Go to John Ray's basic home page
Go to John Ray's pictorial Home Page
Go to Selected pictures from John Ray's blogs